YOU may titter about the kitsch but much-loved singing duo Fran and Anna lapped it up. Didn’t mind a bit of fun.

They’d a grand sense of humour themselves, and were always smiling – all the way through nearly seven decades in show-business.

Yon Herald newspaper described them as “one of the most enduring – and endearing – partnerships in Scottish variety … the epitome of the heather-and-haggis approach to Scottish light entertainment”. 

North Lanarkshire Council’s website proudly dedicates a page to the gals, which is more than you’ll ever get. Particularly if you’re not from North Lanarkshire.

Sisters Frances Watt (born March 16, 1922) and Anna May Watt (born January 4, 1924) hailed from Coatbridge. At the age of five, they joined their father David and their older sister Lily, a pianist, on stage as puppeteers, touring the clubs of LA.* Later, Lily became their manager, continuing in that role until her death in 1998. (* Lanarkshire).

David was a steel worker by day and a ventriloquist and children’s entertainer by night. He came from a family of musicians and went by the stage name Valentine Prince, after the Hungarian existentialist philosopher. 

He – David, not the Hungarian – was married to Margaret Lacey (née Tobin). Anna always said they got their sense of humour from their Irish mother.

The sisters attended St Patrick’s Secondary School, after which they got out of Dodge and sought success in yonder London. 

By the 1960s, they were doing well as The Prince Sisters, performing cheesy standards on cruise ships and touring international cabaret and supper club circuits. 

Among their friends they counted Gracie Fields and Princess Grace of Monaco.

Despite recognition – mainly from wanted posters – overseas, the sisters remained little known in Scotland until, around 1970, they changed their stage names to Fran and Anna, coincidentally their real names, and adopted their trademark tartan kitsch outfits and a comic style as self-deprecating as it was charming.

Tartan special 
The outfits comprised tartan mini-dresses with a jabot – ken? – on the front, fishnet stockings, rouged cheeks, and matching tartan hats, each decorated with a large feather. Reputedly, they wore these outfits daily – even while going for the messages! 

Friend and variety star Johnny Beattie said: “I think they went to bed like that.”
Floating gently down from the lid of a shortbread tin, they became a firm favourite of Radio Clyde disc jockey Jack McLaughlin, who persistently but gently ribbed them as “the most lovable couple in show business – until they start singing”.

Despite also referring to them as “the gruesome twosome” and “the bags in drag”, Jack loved them enough to take them with him when he became the self-styled Laird O’ Coocaddens on his STV Scottish country dance show, Thingummyjig. 

Anna said of Jack’s ribbing: “People must be daft if they think his jokes bothered us. The Scots can be so sensitive … But wherever we went we were asked back, so we knew it was all in good humour.” Yep. Laughing with them, not at them.

The Herald:

Wonder women
THINGUMMYJIG, according to Anna, made the pair in Scotland and, soon, they were also appearing with Terry Wogan on his BBC TV talk show in the 1980s. Wogan hailed them as “a great success” and said people were always asking for them. 

They became known as Wogan’s Wonders. No wonder then that in 1989, they were each awarded the British Empire Medal for services to light entertainment and for their “care and concern for others, putting on impromptu performances, whether for factory workers, the handicapped or the elderly”. 

It was only on receiving this honour that we learned their ages: “perpetually 21”.

What was their oeuvre like? Well, you can find them on Spotify, preceded by the warning: “May contain accordions.” Opening proceedings is a medley, Blaw Blaw My Kilt’s Awa’/Stop Your Ticklin’ Jock/I Love a Lassie. Blaw tells the sad story of a fellow who has lost his kilt and is desirous of a pair of trousers. The tale is related with gusto before the cheery duo outline their full CV: “We can dance and we can sing/And we can do the Hielan’ fling.” Excellent.

The second song reveals the girls to be suffering from gargalaphobia which an uncouth fellow is seeking to exploit for his own amusement. 

Also featured on the concept album is The Noo, a song about the situation at present. It was memorably played to a rousing reception when Fran and Anna provided the support act to prog rock band Yes on their tour promoting the triple album Tales From Topographic Oceans. Joking.

Royal recognition
FRAN and Anna lived with their siblings in a house in Coatbridge called Balmoral – “appropriate because they were local royalty”, said cousin Jim. 

The walls were decorated with a letter from Buckingham Palace, a note from Prince Rainier of Monaco thanking them for a performance, and – the girls’ favourite – a photograph of them with Telly Savalas when the actor was playing golf in Ayr.

During their career, they performed in Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Turkey, Italy, Israel, France and Switzerland. 

Their gruelling schedule never left time for marriage or kids. 

Anna: “We had plenty of admirers but we were far too busy for marriage … You could say we were career women.” Good job too. 

Fran and Anna often appeared at Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre, giving their last performance (by now in their late seventies) there in 2002, alongside Jack Milroy and Johnny Beattie, accompanied by Gordon Cree on piano.

Fran died at Monklands Hospital, aged 81, of pneumonia on October 14, 2003, with an inconsolable Anna holding her hand. 

The previous year, the inseparable pair had been photographed side by side in Santa suits as they turned on Coatbridge’s Christmas lights. 

Anna died peacefully of natural causes at St Andrew’s Hospice in Airdrie six years after Fran, on February 19, 2009. The sisters are buried alongside one another in Old Monkland Cemetery, Coatbridge.

Say what you like about tartan kitsch and whatnot, Fran and Anna – who didn’t mind a bit – were much loved, not just by their fans, but in their community. 

They were Good Gals, who brought many people joy and had a grand time doing it, which is as fine a way to spend a life as any.